Article & Photos by Melanie Hoyt
This weekend, Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt will compete at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City. Last season, they won the bronze medal at this event and will have another chance to fight for a medal this year.
The team has undergone a major change since their last competition, the 2013 U.S. Championships in January. There, they placed fifth and improved upon their 2012 score by over 11 points. Overall, Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt had a successful 2012-13 season, winning two international medals. But they wanted to push themselves in a new way this season, and they decided to leave the tutelage of Yasa Netchaeva and Yuri Tchesnitchenko, who had been coaching them since they teamed up in 2006.
After seven years together–with the same coaches and at the same rink–it is easy to get comfortable. When former training mates Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell and Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates departed, Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt were the only elite team at the rink. They set the standard for the younger skaters. So while Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt were happy with the progress that they have made and all the highlights of their career thus far, they made the tough decision to leave the familiar rink in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“It was so hard to leave them [Netchaeva and Tchesnitchenko],” Kriengkrairut said. “We were with them for our entire career together, so they really built us up and made us what we are. We’re forever thankful.”
“We both have extreme respect for them as individuals and as coaches,” Giulietti-Schmitt added. “I think they knew that. We laid everything out on the table; we weren’t trying to do anything behind their backs.”
Their new home base is less than 30 miles away from their old rink. Now training in Novi with Igor Shpilband at the helm, Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt are enjoying a training atmosphere filled with elite athletes that brims with new challenges. No longer are they the top team in the group. Now they train alongside some of the highest-ranked teams in the world, like four-time French national champions Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat and Italians Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte. They also train with reigning U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates, who are among their domestic rivals.
“It’s been quite an adjustment,” Kriengkrairut said. “It’s really different from what we were used to, but we really like it. We have a huge collaboration of coaches that work together, and we get a lot of different perspectives on our skating.”
“Igor brings in a lot of people that have specialties,” Giulietti-Schmitt explained, “so they can focus on specific areas, like lifts or technique.”
Over the summer, Russian coach Alexei Gorshkov and Italian coach Barbara Fusar-Poli alternated months in Novi, bringing their usual students with them. Shpilband also brought in an acrobatic lifts coach for periodic three-week residencies with his team. Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt are still working with the same ballroom teachers that they had in Ann Arbor—one of the benefits of a short-haul coaching change—but they now work with them more often on the ice, directly with the short dance.
The constant changes and collaborative atmosphere are not like what Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt have experienced before, but they are adapting well and trying to take everything they can from the array of experts.
“If there’s ever a conflict, we make sure that we talk it out,” Kriengkrairut said. “Especially with the Finnstep, I think that everyone—even the judges—are trying to figure out what’s going on. Just because it’s so early in the season, we run into some conflicts here and there, but we always make sure to talk it out.”
“Right now, it’s great to have a lot of perspectives,” her partner added. “We’re trying to sort out what works best for us. Sometimes what works for us doesn’t necessarily work well for another, so it’s good to hear different ideas and feedback.”
“We have so many teams on the ice, but we somehow make it work so that we’re not running into each other,” Kriengkrairut said. “Everyone is really supportive of each other and it’s a really positive environment.”
Their off-season has not been without setbacks, though. At the end of June, Kriengkrairut suffered a concussion and had to spend a week recovering from it. Fortunately, she was able to return to the ice fairly quickly. Just a few weeks later, and only one week before the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships (LPIDC), Giulietti-Schmitt injured his back while practicing lifts. He also had to take time away from the ice but bounced back with enough time to revise their programs a couple of days before they traveled to Lake Placid. Temporary lifts reduced the chance that he would re-injure his back, and they were able to begin their season at LPIDC, which was key to their plan for the season.
“Early preparation is something that we value,” Giulietti-Schmitt said. “We feel it’s important, regardless of what year it is, whether it’s an Olympic year or not. You see a ton of teams now trying to get out early, but this is normal for us.”
A new season always means new programs—at least in ice dance—and the duo carefully chose contrasting selections that would show off their versatility. Their peppy, almost quirky, short dance came to them easily this year. They were performing at a show in Kriengkrairut’s hometown of Bismark, N.D., when they heard Caro Emerald’s “That Man” playing. Immediately recognizing the rhythm as perfect for the Finnstep, they latched onto the music and sought out a good companion piece as they developed the idea with Shpilband.
“Right away, we thought it was right up our alley,” Giulietti-Schmitt said. “It’s very energetic, fun, and a little goofy. It brings out our personalities.”
“Logan loves the goofy style, so it was just perfect,” Kriengkrairut said as they both laughed. “I’m not as outgoing and goofy as he is, but it was really fun for me to start working on the style. I love it.”
In the free dance, they went with a lyrical style that suits Kriengkrairut more naturally. They chose music from “Spartacus,” a piece often heard in skating, but not so often in ice dance. The program was a hit at LPIDC, even with the missed training time before the event. Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt won their free dance group.
“We really like having differences between the two programs and the range that they both bring to our skating,” Giulietti-Schmitt said. “With the free, we’re doing something quite a bit different from what we’re used to, but we wanted to show a different style.”
The new programs will get their first international showing this weekend. The event features a couple of headliners who appear to be locks for the first two positions, but the battle for bronze could be quite a showdown, and Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt should be in that mix. The competition has added buzz this year because it is an Olympic season, but they are content to fly under the radar and avoid the Olympic hype.
“We are taking things one step at a time and letting things develop,” Kriengkrairut said. “We’re not trying to rush or push anything too much. It’s all about the process and right now, we’re still at the beginning stages. We’re not trying to get worked up about the Olympics at this point.”
“We feel like we have nothing to lose,” Giulietti-Schmitt said. “We have a lot of new things that we’re trying to develop. We’re happy with how things are right now and we’re confident that our programs will develop over the year. We’re trying to take things one month at a time, one competition at a time, and we know that we will get stronger over the year.”
It seems that the coaching change was not about a last-ditch effort to make a spot on the Olympic team, but an honest effort to improve as a team.
“It’s great being in a really competitive environment again, with a lot of teams on the ice,” Giulietti-Schmitt said. “We want to have a different look for ourselves this year, and not hold anything back. We feel like this change is going to bring that to our skating.”